It wasn't too long ago when sending your child to kindergarten simply meant packing his favorite sandwich in a shiny new lunchbox and dropping him off at the neighborhood school. Or if money wasn't an issue, enrolling him in the local parochial school. Educational options were simple and straightforward.
For some, that might still be the case, but today many parents face a complex educational landscape. Issues such as academic quality, curriculum focus, bullying and sexual harassment, competitiveness and overachievement, and even politics are increasingly affecting parents' educational decisions.
Angelina Arrington is an educational consultant and founder of Academic Savvy in Los Angeles, which provides services for K–12 families. Before consulting, Arrington worked more than 20 years as an administrator and teacher in both public and private schools. She has learned that a variety of factors impact educational choices.
"College is becoming so much more competitive, and that has created a trickle-down effect for K–12. Secondly, there have been so many legislative budget cuts resulting in larger class sizes and fewer resources at schools. Parents are scrambling for alternative choices—magnet, charter, private, or homeschooling. Safety has also come to the national forefront: we are seeing some of the safest schools experience great tragedies," she says.
To help untangle the complexities, Arrington advises parents to look broadly at three areas as
they make their choices: academic quality, family values, and finances. While each of these areas is distinct, they also overlap and blend when parents are deciding between public, private, or homeschooling.
By far, the majority of American families enroll their children in public school. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES), the primary federal entity charged with collecting and analyzing educational data, 50.1 million students attended public schools while 5.2 million students (roughly 10 percent of all school-age children) attended private schools in 2013. The NCES also reports that homeschoolers make up 3 percent of schoolage children.
The NCES administers a National Assessment Report each year: the 2013 report shows private schools outperforming public schools by ranges of 10 to 25 percent in math, reading, writing, science, geography, and civics. However, parents should keep in mind that public schools often have more advanced placement and honors classes as well as extra-curricular activities that aren't dependent on tuition dollars. And many public schools do offer solid programs, or even specialized programs (such as a medical magnet or performing arts
school) that private schools can't.